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Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

Beyond catalogs and call numbers: A Brief History of Library Instruction at the Naval Academy

by David D'Onofrio on 2021-09-30T15:56:17-04:00 in Special Collections & Archives, History | Comments

As the fall semester gets into full swing and the librarians at Nimitz Library take the library's newest instructional space, the Nautilus Room, out for its shakedown cruise, let's take a moment to look back on the founding of the academy library's instruction program. While the impulse to collect and preserve the written word is nearly as old as the written word itself, the practice of offering instruction in the retrieval and use of those collected materials is relatively young. In American collegiate libraries, that practice traces its roots to around 1880, when the head of the Harvard University Library declared that it was incumbent upon a librarian to become "a teacher, not with a text book, but with a world of books." Here at the Naval Academy, that tradition of formal library instruction is even younger, tracing its roots to 1948, when the Naval Academy Library developed its first course in "Library practice and procedure" for the incoming Plebe Class.

                Bolander article on library instruction

                Bolander article on library instruction

In a 1948 draft article for publication, Naval Academy Librarian Louis Bolander describes the Academy's first dedicated library instruction course. Previously, all instruction in the use of the library was undertaken by the academic departments.

Taught in two, hour-long sessions during Plebe Summer, the library course first introduced plebes to the wealth of resources available at the library during a talk in the Mahan Hall auditorium, followed by a practical demonstration of principal references sources (such as Jane's Fighting Ships) and the card catalog.

                Mahan library card catalog
A midshipman tracking down resources in the card catalog, circa 1959.

The follow-up session presented midshipmen with a practical assignment, requiring them to answer between six and eight questions on topics such as the American Revolution or aeronautics using only the library as a resource.

                Library instruction assignment
Sample assignment sheet listing recommended reference sources on the American Revolution, along with the assignment's six required and two optional questions.

Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, instructional technology and methodology used in the library's instruction program continued to advance, including the use of closed-circuit television and the production of instructional films, as demonstrated in the film "Ye Old Library." However, lacking a dedicated classroom space of its own, the library was still forced to rely on Mahan Hall Auditorium for basic instruction.

                Bolander in Mahan Hall
Librarian Louis Bolander explaining use of the library to fourth classmen by means of closed-circuit television in Mahan Hall Auditorium, 1954.

With the opening of Nimitz Library in 1973, the landscape of library services at the Naval Academy changed dramatically, as the library's collection was consolidated from locations in Mahan Hall, Isherwood Hall, Mitscher Hall, and the old power house complex to a single structure for the first time in decades. Gone were days of using Mahan Hall Auditorium for library instruction and the closed-circuit television feeds, but lacking a dedicated teaching space, the practical demonstration aspect of the library's 1948 instruction course still remained a cornerstone of library user instruction.

                Library instruction by Nimitz catalog
Librarian Bill McQuade instructing midshipmen in the use of Nimitz library in 1980. McQuade is standing next to the library's card catalog, which was a dominating presence on the first floor of Nimitz for more than 30 years.

It was not until the 1990's, with the construction of the Bibliographic Instruction Room, also known as LI1, that the library could finally boast its own dedicated teaching space. Converted from a former collections sorting area by the SeaBees in 1990, LI1 (along with a second, smaller instruction room) would serve as Nimitz Library's instructional space for nearly 30 years.


                Librarian in instruction room
Librarian Barbara Yoakum teaches a library instruction session in Nimitz Library's instruction room in March 1998.

Today, following the renovation of Nimitz Library's first floor, LI1 is no more. As part of the renovation that opened up sweeping views of College Creek and Hospital Point, Nimitz's original teaching space was demolished. In its stead, the newly christened Nautilus Room takes over as the library's premier teaching venue.

                Nimitz Library first floor
View of the renovated first floor of Nimitz Library, looking through the former location of LI1 in the direction of College Creek.
                Nimitz Library Nautilus Room
The Nautilus Room, new home of Nimitz Library's information literacy program.


Farber, Evan Ira., David C. D. Gansz, Richard Hume. Werking, Lynn Scott. Cochrane, and Pyke Johnson. College Libraries and the Teaching/learning Process : Selections from the Writings of Evan Ira Farber Richmond, Indiana: Earlham College Press, 2007.

Naval Academy Photograph Collection, 1845-1983, RG 405, Special Collections & Archives, Nimitz Library.

United States Naval Academy. Library. Annual Report of the Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy, Fiscal Year 1991. Annapolis, 1992.

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